Living With Cancer

This article provides an overview of different types of cancer, how it is graded and staged, how it is treated, and what questions you should ask your doctor if you are diagnosed with cancer.

What is cancer?

Cancer develops when cells in your body become abnormal and grow out of control. These abnormal cells don’t let your healthy cells and organs do their normal job, and affect the way your body normally works.
When cells grow in ways they shouldn’t, we call these cells abnormal. As a group, they can spread out of control. Sometimes, they form a mass, or lump, called a tumour.

What types of tumours are there?

There are 2 types of tumours:
• Benign tumours are not cancer. They do not spread to other parts of the body.
• Malignant tumours are cancerous. The cancer cells in these tumours can spread to other parts of the body.
In some types of cancer, such as leukemia, abnormal cells start to grow in many places at the same time.
When cancer cells break away from the tumour and travel through your blood or lymph system to other parts of your body where they start to grow, this is called metastasis (pronounced ’met-ass-ta-sees).


Grade of cancer

The grade of your cancer describes how different your cancer is from normal cells. Your doctor might describe your cancer as:
• Low-grade – this means that the cancer cells are less active and may not spread.
• Medium-grade – this means that some of the cancer cells may break away and spread to other parts of your body.
• High-grade – this means that the cancer cells are growing more actively, and are more likely to spread to other parts of your body. Some high-grade cancers do not spread to other parts of your body.


Stage of cancer

Staging tells you where the cancer was when you were diagnosed with cancer. This helps your doctor plan your treatment and tell you the likely outcome of your cancer.
In order to find out the stage of your cancer, you will need to have tests to find out:
  • Where your cancer is
  • How big your cancer is
  • If your cancer is growing into other parts of your body near the cancer, and
  • If your cancer has spread into other parts of your body.


Cancer testing

The kinds of tests that your doctor might do are:
  • Mammograms
  • Bone scans
  • CAT scans
  • Chest X-rays
  • Ultrasound scans
  • Blood tests
  • Exploratory surgery
  • And many others
For most types of cancers, your doctor will want to do tests to find out:
  • The stage of your cancer
  • The grade of your cancer
  • Both the stage and grade of your cancer


What are the main types of cancer?

There are four main types of cancer:
  • Carcinomas are the most common type of cancer. They may start in the bowel, breasts, cervix, lungs, kidneys, ovaries, prostate gland, or in the skin
  • Leukemias are cancers of the white blood cells
  • Lymphomas are cancers of the lymph system. This is the system in your body that is made up of the spleen, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels.  The lymph system carries food, oxygen, and water to the cells in your tissues
  • Sarcomas are cancers that start in muscles, bones, and cartilage. Cartilage is at the ends of your bones and grows to form new bone


Cancer treatment

The goals of cancer treatment depend on the type and stage of your cancer. They can be to:
1. Cure your cancer
2. Remove or shrink the cancer
3. Kill cancer cells that may have spread
4. Reduce the risk of cancer coming back
5. Help you cope with cancer symptoms, such as pain
You may need one or more types of cancer treatment. Your health care team will develop a plan with you. Some types of treatment are:
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Combination therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Bone marrow or stem cell transplants


Questions to ask your health care team

  • What caused my cancer?
  • At what stage or grade is my cancer?
  • What tests will I need to find out the stage or grade of my cancer?
  • When will I get the results of these tests?
  • What treatment will I have for my cancer?
  • What other treatment options do I have?
  • When will I begin treatment?
  • When and how will I know if the treatment worked?
  • Should I get a second opinion?


Important information

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